6th Street bridge closure to provide “short-term pain, long-term gain”

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 10:53 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - In most rapidly-growing cities the size of Sioux Falls, the 18-month closing of a street that leads to a booming new section of downtown and the entrance to a city’s top tourist attraction would be a colossal source of scorn and inconvenience for many.

But the construction of a new “Unity Bridge” on 6th St. in Sioux Falls will be a relatively minor nuisance for those who use it, and a symbolic bridge to a bright and bustling future for the surrounding businesses — current and future — that Dakota News Now talked to on Monday.

“It’s a little short-term pain for a big long-term gain,” said Pendar Properties president Jeff Scherschligt, the lead developer for Cherapa 2, the modern, 10-story, retail-and-apartment building already under construction, next to the 15-year-old Cherapa Place building. Cherapa 2 sits above the city’s Greenway bike path, right on the river, less than a block from the bridge, and 6th St. will be its north entrance.

Monday marked the first day of closure of the 1,000-foot strip of cement that stretches over the Big Sioux River — both for vehicles and pedestrians. In two weeks, the current bridge, built in 1975, will be demolished, and the new structure is scheduled to be completed in July of 2024.

Project manager Wes Philips, the city’s principal engineer, told DNN the 48-year-old bridge is “at the end of its useful life,” and the new structure will have “nice aesthetic planters, some lighting — so it’ll be a nice improvement.”

The bridge is used as a connection to and from the ever-burgeoning north end of downtown — particularly, new Phillips Avenue restaurants and shops, the Levitt Shell for outdoor concerts, and the main entrance to Falls Park. The Sioux Steel district — a hotel, office, retail, and shopping area — is also in development near 6th St. and Phillips Ave.

The bridge’s detour for both 6th St. drivers and walkers is only two blocks away — the newly-renovated 8th St. bridge, which is easily accessed by Phillips Avenue on the west side of the river, and Franklin Street on the west end.

For those who use the city’s expansive bike trail from downtown to Falls Park, the construction at 6th St. will be a shakeup. The trail goes under the bridge, but will be blocked for a while.

The detour for the trail will start with “Arc of Dreams” pedestrian bridge over the river, between the 6th and 8th St. bridges. Once that bridge is crossed to the river’s west end at the Raven Industries building, the detour path leads bikers, walkers, and joggers near the Levitt Shell, and to the Falls Park entrance.

At first glance, it would appear that the 6th St. bridge closure and Unity Bridge construction would provide a major conflict with the Cherapa 2 development, but Philips said the communication and coordination has been smooth between the city, Pendar Properties (which owns Cherapa 2 and Cherapa Place), and Journey Construction (the contractor for Cherapa 2).

“It’s a huge challenge coordinating all the work that’s going on,” Philips said. “They have a massive project. We’re going to have a massive project in the middle of it, so we’re going to be closely coordinating various aspects throughout the entire project. It’s a nice time to get it done while there’s so much construction here. People are used to it. So, once everything is done and opened up, it’ll be great.”

Scherschligt, the Cherapa 2 lead developer, said the 6th St. bridge construction will be much less of a headache than most would imagine. The access for tenants and shoppers of Cherapa 2 will mainly come from 8th St.

“We don’t really need 6th Street very badly at this point for next year, so that’s why it has a coordinated aspect,” Scherschligt said.

More importantly, Scherschligt said, the 6th St. bridge and the “big areas of our retail” for Cherapa 2 are expected to be completed at about the same time — the spring and summer of 2024.

”That’s the critical piece,” Scherschligt said. “You don’t necessarily want to open a new retail location and have roads all under construction.”

“It’s critical to be able to move the number of people we’re going to have at our development, and the Steel District development. You’re going to be putting thousands of people down there working, living, and playing. So, ultimately, you’ve got to move this traffic. You’ve got to have walking. You know, we’re all trying to get to be more of a walking community, and all of this ties together.”

Three current local businesses close to the bridge — Manna Bakery, Harvester Kitchen, and JuLiana’s Boutique — all told DNN they aren’t worried about the impact of the closure.

Manna Bakery is on the east side of the river, a few blocks away from the bridge. While the direct 6th St. connection west from downtown is now cut off for 18 months, a manager said that most of Manna’s commerce comes from those who live in the Whittier neighborhood, to its east.

Owners of two of the retail businesses in the building closest to the west end of the bridge told DNN they’re confident that the 6th St. bridge closure be worth the wait, when Cherapa 2, the new bridge, and Sioux Steel district are completed.

In a written message, a co-owner of Harvester Kitchen by Bryan, said “while the effects of the bridge construction on us remain unknown, we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the growth and progress of the thriving DTSF (Downtown Sioux Falls) community.”

Next door, Lana Oleshove is co-owner of JuLiana’s Boutique La Femme, which has occupied the space in the Harvester Building nearest to 6th Street since 2016. Both she and a Harvester Building resident in the loft apartments above the retail space said that most people access the building from the west side of the bridge on 6th St., a block from bustling Phillips Ave. So, the blockage from the east won’t be particularly bothersome.

”Our customers should have no problem getting to our boutique,” said Oleshove. “I think we’re going to still have a solid business.”

In fact, Oleshove sounded downright giddy about what is to come once the bridge is complete and re-opened in over a year.

”I’m every excited for the future of where we’re located,” Oleshove said. “We’re down by the Sculpture Walk, and the Leavitt Shell, and this place is going to be a hot spot, even with the road closed.”

Scherschligt took the vision after completion a step further.

”I think we’re going to really redefine downtown for the next decades to come,” Scherschligt said. “And I think that downtown is already a gem for Sioux Falls, and we’re just going to shine that gem a little bit more.”